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Light up the night sky: Daimonji Gozan Okuribi


Daimonji Gozan Okuribi


Daimonji, literally meaning “large character”, is an annual festival of massive bonfires lit up on the mountains surrounding the city of Kyoto from East, West, and North. The bonfires are cut up in the respective shape on the mountains in the shape of large characters or symbolic motifs.

It is one of the most well-known event that is strongly associated with the image of “Kyoto summer”. There are many places around Kyoto where you can observe this marvelous event. Looking down on the letters from the top of a building or by the riverside, one cannot help but be amazed at its serenity.

History and Background

大文字絵 Daimonji has a close connection to the Obon festival, the Japanese Buddhist (and Confucian) custom to honor the spirits of family ancestors that takes place in mid-August.

The exact origin of the event is obscure and there are many interpretations . It is, however, widely regarded that the fires are lit to guide the souls of the ancestors back to heaven, as they were visiting their families on the Earth during Obon.

In fact, the term okuribi in the formal name “Gozan Okuribi” roughly means “send-off fire”.

There is also an another interesting custom to believe that if you drink sake or water with the burning Daimonji characters reflected in the cup, you would be protected from illness.

Also, if you remember the Kyo no Tanabata event (check out here: Enjoy Beautiful Sights! Star Festival in Kyoto!), the paper strips on which people wrote their wishes during this event will be burnt in some of these bonfires.

The Five Characters


Each of the five characters lit up has a meaning:

The character on the right is 大 (Dai-monji), a Kanji letter meaning “large” or “great”. The bonfire is at the Higashiyama mountain on the East of Kyoto, lit at 8pm.

On the North, you see 妙 (Myo) and 法 (Ho), which refers to “Saddharma”, one of the most influential sutras of the complete and ultimate teachings of the Buddha. The two letters are lit on Matsugasaki-Nishiyama and Higashiyama. (8:05pm)

On the West is 船形 (Huna-gata), literally meaning the boat shape. It is lit on Nishigano funeyama. (8:10pm)

Then a little to the South, we have another 大 (Hidari-daimonji), again meaning “large” on Ohkitayama. (8:15pm)

The final shape is 鳥居形 (Torii-gata), in the shape of the Torii gate standing at the entrance of Shinto shrines. This motif is found in Mandarayama, located in the western corner of the city near Arashiyama area. (8:20pm)

Where to See It From?

You can enjoy an excellent view of the bonfires from a few spots around the city.  Some of the suggestions are:

★Kyoto Tower

★JR Kyoto Station rooftop terrace (Sky Garden & Happy Terrace)

★Demachiyanagi Delta

★Kamogawa river banks

★Arashiyama (Togetsubashi)

★Imperial Palace

While many of these places are free, sometimes they can be very crowded or require reservation (or a purchase of ticket for a small fee) depending on the year, so you might want to check it to be sure.

To enjoy the view in relaxing atmosphere, you can pay for fees at high-rise hotels or restaurants . Some of the hotels or restaurants offer special meal package that provides the access to the rooftop.

So, I hope this article was helpful for you to figure out the plan for this festive night. Pick a spot to your liking , maybe grab a few drinks with friends and family, and off you go to appreciate one of the prettiest summer nights in Kyoto.

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